Now we are six

It’s the second time I’ve thought of using that title for a post, and the connection between the two thoughts exists on several levels.

The first time was when Ruairi turned six years old last December. This time: well, this time we’re not talking in ages. To my considerable surprise, and largely thanks to Ruairi’s patient influence, we seem to have acquired a sixth family member.

Say hello to Cooper – born February 21, 2009, which makes him a mere nine weeks old by my count.

Cooper’s a kind of ‘doodle mashup. Somewhere between an Australian Shepherd and a Standard Poodle with, we think, a trace of something else stirred in for good luck. He’s also 8% toe-licker, 6% rug-worrier, 4% random sneezer, and at least 82% heart-breaker.

We have a dog. Crikey. We have a dog.

If you’d have asked me last week, I would still have told you, with confidence, that I was a confirmed cat person – yet here I am, falling hard for the finest bag o’ rags scruffy pup in the known universe.

OK, back up. How did we get here?

Cooper is, essentially, a promise kept. We’re all animal lovers, but of all of us, the most utterly devoted to beasts of every variety is certainly Ruairi. He’s been asking for a dog for as long as I can remember, but at least since he was three years old. We promised him long ago he could have a dog when he reached Grade One – once he was in full-time school. For the past few months, the quiet campaign has intensified, and we knew we were going to have to do it soon. Still and all, we kept finding reasons to put off the decision.

Leona and I both grew up around dogs, but it took me a long time to get my head around the idea of raising a pup. Then last weekend, as I walked down the hill into Riverdale Park for one of Charlie’s cross-country practice sessions, it all finally clicked into place. Nothing like a walk in the park to make you realise how a dog could fit into your life.

So – after months and months of research, reading, talking to friends, and observing the hundreds of neighbourhood pooches – we’ve finally done it. Yesterday afternoon we made the long trek out through one of the filthiest storms I’ve ever driven through, to the rural calm of Wallenstein, Ontario and a lovely, clean and happy Mennonite farm to take a look at their latest litter of pups.

Several of our friends scoffed at the thought that we were “just going to look” at the pups. They were all absolutely right, of course, as I guess I knew they were. We were ready. We knew we were ready and so, it would seem, did the wee beastie who rode back with us, snuggled in Leona’s arms.

The first night was pretty rough. Poor Cooper found it hard to adjust after the disorientation of his first car ride, the excitement of his strange new home, the flood of affection from his new family members, and the misery of separation from his siblings.

We’re doing the crate-training thing, which some people will tell you is cruel (often the same people who’ll angrily swat a pup on the nose when it piddles on the carpet). The books and many experts seem to agree it’s one of the best things you can do for a young dog. Try explaining that to a 9-week-old snufflehound, though. Little Coop was not a happy chap last night.

Not wanting to take him from the crate, but also unable to harden my heart entirely to his lonely whimpers, I ended up – soft idiot that I am – grabbing a sleeping bag and bedding down beside him on the hardwood. Somehow, we both survived intact and (barely) rested. At the same time, this doggie Ferberizing seems to have forged an instant bond between us, such that Cooper has hardly left my side all day.

He’s imprinted on me as deeply as I’ve fallen in love with him.

Today has been a whirl of visits from friends, romps in the garden, walkies, walkies, and more walkies. The comical little scruff has settled in beautifully, so far. Who knows what the next years will bring?

Welcome to the family, little Cooper. It’s a joy to have you here.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, we named him Cooper for a number of reasons; one being his fuzzy-headed likeness to a certain favourite comic magician of my childhood.

[UPDATE: He slept through the second night without a peep out of him, and then did his business immediately on being taken outside at 6am. I’m inclined to think this was less a miraculous instant housebreaking epiphany and more the result of him being plain tuckered out after all yesterday’s excitement, but I’m not complaining. Good boy, Cooper!]

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